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1066 and All That    by Walter Carruthers Sellar & Robert Julian Yeatman order for
1066 and All That
by Walter Carruthers Sellar
Order:  USA  Can
Sutton, 1997 (1930)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is British history with a difference. Its compulsory preface ('This Means You') informs that 'History is not what you thought. It is what you can remember. All other history defeats itself.' The authors then proceed to give us a laugh-out-loud account of British history, in which all dates that are 'not memorable', that is all but two, have been ruthlessly eliminated. It's one of those books, like The Pooh Perplex, that linger in your memory even as the details blur.

It begins with the Romans, who were 'top nation on account of their classical education' and notes their conquest as a Good Thing, despite its 'unfair means, such as battering-rams, tortoises, hippocausts, centipedes' etc.. The book ends with the Great War which 'was between Germany and America and was thus fought in Belgium' and resulted in a 'a great many more countries: this was a Bad Thing as it was the cause of increased geography'.

Each chapter ends with a test paper with enlightening questions like 'What convinces you that Henry VIII had VIII wives? Was it worth it?' There are many little known gems of history. For example, were you aware that the Pilgrims' Progress on the Mayfly was one of the 'chief causes of America' or that the American Revolution resulted from the fact that these poor souls 'never had afternoon tea'? You can learn a lot of Good and Bad Things from this slim volume.

I don't know why humor is not used more widely to teach history. I can imagine a U.S. version, Revere and All That or an Aussie one, Botany and All That. My vote for the Canadian equivalent would be Fuddle Duddle and All That. All I can remember from Canadian history is my indignation when asked to memorize the year the first cow was born in Saskatchewan, but I will never be able to forget the date of the Battle of Hastings ...and All That.

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